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The Arizona Supreme Court declares anonymous jury trials constitutional

PHOENIX – The Arizona Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that state courts can keep the identities of jurors secret, dismissing a challenge from a southern Arizona journalist who argued that the right to observe trials includes access to the names of jurors who cross decide the fate of those accused of crimes.

The unanimous decision, authored by Vice Chief Justice Ann Scott Timmer, dismissed arguments by attorneys for the publisher of the Cochise County Record that withholding identities during the jury selection process without compelling reason violates the First Amendment.

The decision continues an ongoing movement in some American courts to allow the identities of jurors who have traditionally been appointed to be kept secret. A media group that filed a friend of the court case said routinely keeping the jurors’ identities secret would undermine the media’s ability to play its guardian role.

But Timmer wrote that while the First Amendment implicitly guarantees the right of the public and press to see criminal proceedings, it does not extend to all “confidential” information.

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To assess whether this right is associated with media access to individual jurors’ names, it is necessary to consider whether they have been available in the past, Timmer wrote, and “whether public access has played a significant positive role in the functioning of the particular juror in question.” process plays”.

Timmer concluded that while the jurors’ names were well known nationwide, their provision did not create a fairer trial and could even jeopardize the integrity of the jury.

“Access to jury names would not provide a substantial means for the public to ascertain that voir dire fair is being conducted or to scrutinize the courts for violating established standards for jury selection,” Timmer wrote .

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press had urged the Supreme Court to require disclosure of jurors’ names except in unusual cases, saying doing otherwise would limit the public and press’s ability to scrutinize the trial.

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“The benefits of an open and transparent court system — protecting against miscarriage of justice, ensuring fair trials and discouraging decisions based on bias — are undermined when the public cannot tell who exercises jury power,” the committee’s filing reads .

Attorneys for the Arizona Attorney General’s office argued that disclosing the jurors’ names would not help the selection process and that disclosing them would put the jury at risk of danger and embarrassment.

The Supreme Court case was brought by David Morgan, who runs the Cochise County Record, a website focused on public documents held by local police and courts. He and a second journalist appealed after a judge sealed the names of jurors without explanation in two cases, but only Morgan pursued the case all the way to Arizona’s highest court.

Morgan said he expected the loss, given questions from the seven judges during the April dispute. However, he noted that the court did not say that jurors’ names could never be made public and that jurors could identify themselves.

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“That focused on voir dire,” Morgan said. “That didn’t say forever.”

Timmer noted that judges are free to release jurors’ names and that if a court denies access, “best practice is to explain your reasoning in the records.”

Cochise County courts use secret juries in all criminal trials, and Arizona law states that jury names or other jury information may not be released unless expressly required by law or ordered by the court.

Judge Clint Bolick wrote a brief unanimous opinion noting that the privacy provision in the Arizona Constitution “provides a compelling interest in enforcing (the statute of juror secrecy) to protect jury privacy.”

Jury names in the US were generally open-ended until the late 1970s, when courts began using anonymous juries in select drug lord and mafia lord cases, and the list has steadily grown to include many high-profile cases.

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Last year a judge in Minnesota said he would keep it Names of jurors who convicted former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin on George Floyd murder mystery t until he deemed it safe to publish their names.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/06/14/arizona-supreme-court-says-anonymous-juries-constitutional/ The Arizona Supreme Court declares anonymous jury trials constitutional

Sarah Y. Kim

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